10 tips for new stepparents

David Allsop

Follow these 10 steps for a better relationship with your step children, including how to set boundaries and prevent resentment.



Step-families are at greater risk of breaking apart than any other family unit but the following ten tips aim to help sidestep a few elephant traps.

60%t of partnerships involving children from previous unions will fail - a significantly higher percentage than marriages without stepchildren.

Like conventional biological parenting, there are no set rules and no guarantees for ensuring a contented parent-child relationship.

If parenting is said to be the most difficult job in the world, then step-parenting must often feel if it is close to impossible.

1. Acknowledge the children's loss

All step-families are created out of loss from death or divorce. Children, of all ages, may not have come to terms with this and may well have unreasonable expectations of a 'recreated' family. Most experts agree that the answer is to redefine the meaning of 'family' by developing an identity as a group. Focus on shared interests and pursue new ones.

2. Don't expect miracles

Instant attachments with step children are rare, and immediate emotional bonding is even rarer. There will be uncertainty and suspicion on both sides, so show respect for their boundaries and expect the same in return.

3. Dealing with the "You're Not My Real Parent" situation

This conversation is inevitable, so get it out of the way quickly. Be clear and confident about who you are and admit what you and the child already know by saying something like: "You're right. And I don't intend to replace your Mum/Dad. But I do expect you to follow the rules when I'm the adult in charge."

4. Agree ground rules with your spouse

It might be stating the obvious, but it is vital to create a plan for parenting. For example, to what extent do you have to take into consideration the views of your spouse's ex when exercising authority? Set the rules and know where you stand.

5. Discipline by biology

Once the rules have been agreed, let the natural parent take the lead in exercising discipline wherever possible. Not only is it more likely to work, it will help to avoid a build-up of resentment.

6. Have family meetings to resolve problems

When difficulties arise, get the family together to talk openly about how they might be resolved. Children of all ages resent the notion that they have no voice and are not being listened to.

7. Stay united

Never take opposing sides when problems arise, at least not in front of the children. You must present a united front.

8. Create new traditions

New families have no traditions, so work on building a history of shared memories and experiences. Don't ignore old traditions, but don't let them prevent the establishment of new ones.

9. Ensure one-on-one time

Find time to spend alone with each step child. While creating a group identity is important, so is building a personal relationship with each child. Try to ensure that your time is shared equally.

10. Don't ignore your own relationship

Your marriage is the most vulnerable relationship in the family. Don't overlook the importance of keeping it healthy, both for you and the children. And guard your private moments together carefully.

For further advice on better step-parenting contact Parentline Plus, a national charity offering a free and confidential helpline service for anyone looking after a child. Help line: 0808 800 2222

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.